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"The two lively dynamos behind
Cape Town’s new Italian cookery
school invite friends to a colourful
lunch," says Hilary Prendini Toffoli.


She’s a Venetian countess but Enrica Rocca is not one of your snooty aristocrats. On the contrary, she’s down-to-earth, funny and flamboyant. Also an excellent cook. All of which accounts for the popularity of the two restaurants she had in Cape Town when she lived in South Africa for 11 years before returning to Europe.


Her flagship was the Enrica Rocca restaurant in Wynberg’s Chelsea district. Il Bacaro in the city centre was a Venetian-style tapas bar. Enrica’s late father the count was also passionate about food. He gave cookery classes at the Cipriani Cookery School in Venice, and Enrica now has her own cookery school in that city where she was born, as well as one in London. She has kept her ties with Cape Town, however, and just launched a branch of Enrica Rocca Cooking School in Constantia with her longtime friend Emma Freddi. 


“Emma is an amazing cook,” Enrica says. “I’ve known her since she and her husband started their fresh pasta business in Cape Town in the nineties. I always used Pasta Freddi’s fresh pasta in my restaurants. There was nothing else like it in Cape Town. Even Pavarotti enjoyed it when he was here. I tried for years to convince Emma to run a cooking school after she left Pasta Freddi. Now eventually she’s given in.”


What Emma needed was a place big enough for classes in her lovely old rambling double-storey surrounded by trees. So when she renovated the house recently she included a spacious, light-filled kitchen. These two old friends are an animated team when they cook together. Things get quite spirited, especially since Italian food tends to differ slightly from region to region, and Emma comes from a village near Genoa on the other side of the Italian boot from Venice.


For today’s lunch with friends however, Enrica has left the choice of menu to Emma. “I’ve kept it simple, not lots of rich sauces,” says Emma, who’s a vibrant younger version of her friend. “When you have good ingredients the job is done.”


A delicious smell of ossobuco is coming from the oven, while at the stove, where some of the guests have gathered while Emma keeps a watchful eye on the risotto, the atmosphere verges on the passionate. 


"Risotto always pulls people together round
the pot,” says Emma. “That’s why it’s one of
my preferred dishes for a dinner party.
It’s like an extra guest. We all stand around
the risotto drinking wine and adding a bit
of liquid to the rice when it gets thirsty."


"You don’t have to make risotto from scratch if you don’t have time. The asparagus you can start working on in the morning. Then after you’ve put the rice in, you switch off the stove and only switch it on again and start cooking the last bit when the guests arrive."



“Stuffed vegetables are also good at a party because you can serve them as a starter or a snack before dinner. The lively colours are tempting - the red and yellow of the peppers, and the green of the zucchini. I always cook with the eye. “Ossobuco is perfect for winter because it’s a very satisfying dish. So rich you feel guilty when you eat it. I don’t like to buy meat with bones that are too big. In the smaller bones is more marrow.


“With the torta di cioccolato it’s best to use good chocolate. Cheap chocolate is oily. I know it’s an expensive cake but baking is expensive when you use good ingredients.” For both these Italian cooks, the right ingredients are what cooking is all about. “Never leave the house with an exact recipe in your head, nor with a shopping list,” says Enrica. “But rather, with alert eyes and senses to recognise good ingredients.


When I began to teach, I barely knew ten recipes, and this was my strength because what I teach my students is the importance of understanding food and experimenting with it.”


She will come to Cape Town several times a year, and stresses that at her school you won’t learn to cook following instructions by the letter, with precise measurements and timing. “You learn more than anything to become impassioned and curious about food.”




Stuffed Vegetables


8 - 10 medium size baby marrows
2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
450 g ricotta cheese
150 g parmigiano
1 handful marjoram
olive oil
bread crumbs
(Serves 6 - 8)
To drink: Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc


Wash the vegetables. Cut the peppers in quarters lengthwise removing seeds. Boil the marrows for five minutes. They should be firm. Drain the marrows and when cold cut in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the insides and mix with ricotta, parmesan and chopped marjoram. Add salt to taste. Blend the mixture in the food processor. Fill the vegetables with the filling. Oil a baking tray and dust with bread crumbs. Lay the vegetables on the baking tray. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 180°C for 30 to 40 minutes until golden.




100 ml olive oil
1 onion
75 medium to small size asparagus
2 litres chicken stock
400 g carnaroli rice
250 ml white wine
100 g butter
100 g grated parmesan
10 g shaved parmesan

(Serves 5 as a mains, 7 as a starter)
To drink: Alexia Merlot Reserve


Cut the asparagus into three parts - bottom, middle and top. Boil the bottoms in the chicken stock until tender. Drain, keeping the stock. Purée the bottoms and set aside. Add the tops to the hot chicken stock from which you took the bottoms but don’t cook. Chop middles finely with the onion. Sauté in olive oil until golden. Leave on low heat until the onions and the asparagus are almost melted, which will take a while but is the secret of a good asparagus risotto.


Add the rice and stir well. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Add the purée made from the asparagus bottoms. Keep adding the chicken stock slowly when the rice needs it. Taste often and when nearly cooked add the asparagus tips, which should be soft from standing in the hot stock. When the rice is cooked, switch the stove off, stir in the butter and add the grated parmesan. Serve sprinkled with shaved parmesan. 



Veal Shins with Mashed Potatoes 


6 to 8 veal shin bones about 5cm thick
100 g carrots
100 g celery
100 g onions
100 ml olive oil
250 ml white wine
500 ml chicken stock flour
salt, ground black pepper
(Serves 6 - 8)
To drink: Steenberg Shiraz


Dust the veal with the flour. Brown in the olive oil. Finely chop the carrots, celery and onions. Sauté vegetables. Put the meat and vegetables into the oven dish with the wine, stock and salt and pepper. Cover with aluminium foil and cook at 180°C for about three hours. Your nose will tell you when it’s ready! 



2 kg potatoes
150 g butter
250 ml milk


Peel the potatoes and put into salted water to just cover. Cook until soft. Drain. Add butter and warmed milk. Mash and add salt to taste. You can use a Braun stick blender to add air and make the mash softer and lighter.


6 - 8 medium hard tomatoes


Chop the skin of the lemons finely with the parsley to make a gremolada. Peel the tomatoes and roll the skin to create a rose. Put the ossobuco and purée on the plate and garnish.


Chocolate cake


3 tbsp flour
6 eggs
200 g sugar
400 g dark chocolate
200 g butter
(Serves 6)
To drink: Klein Constantia Vin de Constance


Melt the chocolate with the butter in a bain marie, or a bowl on top of a pot with warm water. Add the sugar and let it melt. Beat the egg whites until firm and set aside. Add flour and yolks one by one to the chocolate mixture. Fold in the egg whites. Butter a cake tin about 30 cm diameter and dust with flour. Pour in the chocolate mix. Bake for 20 minutes at 180°C. The middle must still be soft when you insert a knife to check if it’s cooked. When cool, dust with castor sugar. Serve with slightly whipped cream, not too stiff.


Classes are small, 8 maximum. Students eat what they’ve cooked. Full day classes, R1950, on Friday and Sunday, include trips by combi to Constantia wine estates. Half-day classes are between 6 and 11pm - R600 on Monday and R900 on Tuesday when there’s a winemaker at the class. Emma’s house also has a guest suite option for out-of-town students needing accommodation.

Contact her at 082 378 8855 or efreddi69@yahoo.com

Photograph by Bruce Tuck
Recipes by Emma Freddi 





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  • Michelle Key
    13 August, 2012, 5:38

    A long time ago I was fortunate enough to have spent a few wonderful, funny and fulfilling (in more ways than one) hours with Enrica Rocca, completely ignorant of the fact that she was a Countess!! Her way of cooking is so enjoyable and you taste it in her food.


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